Two standard character types—a spunky lower-class girl and a prince without a kingdom—reluctantly bond in a series opener that features colorful aspects mortared together with tired tropes.
Snail is a midwife’s apprentice in the Unseelie Court, which occupies a harsh, chaotic castle brimming with many kinds of fey. Snail’s midwifery role is strictly prescribed, but she’s clumsy and tends to stumble into trouble. Elsewhere in the castle lives Prince Aspen, called the Hostage Prince since he doesn’t belong to the royal Unseelie family—he belongs to their enemies. By birth, he’s the third successor to the faraway Seelie throne. Seven years ago, each court sent a son to their enemy’s home as a hostage against the possibility of war. When a drow’s lie and a queen’s hostility send Snail and Aspen tumbling into a frantic escape from execution, they grudgingly work together to cross changing landscapes and reach his Seelie family—which doesn’t offer the safety they expect. A comical troll birthing scene, an ending twist and an intriguing riddle that Aspen’s charged to carry balance out the uneven creativity and the fact that Snail’s plucky impudence—a central aspect of her characterization—receives only the thinnest justification.
This isn’t the absolute freshest fantasy for this age group, but the prince’s boldly impossible plan will carry readers forward to the next installment. (Fantasy. 8-11)